Chick Corea was only remotely familiar to me the moment I stepped into the dim red glow of Harpa’s Eldborg concert hall. He is a big name in the jazz universe and has played with canonical figures like Stan Getz and Miles Davis, led the seminal fusion group Return to Forever and was described by Los Angeles Times as “one of the major jazz piano voices to emerge in the post-John Coltrane era.” Corea replaced Herbie Hancock in Miles Davis’ band in 1968 and performed on such landmark albums as ‘Bitches Brew’ and ‘In A Silent Way.’ He also has 51 Grammy nominations under his belt, and is apparently a Scientologist. He was there with Gary Burton, a vibraphonist who has been his on-and-off collaborator for over forty years.
Jazz in this day and age has a reputation for being too mannered, cultivated and white, and the pair’s polite introduction to their concert was certainly all that. Their playing on the other hand was not. They began with a piece composed by Chick and I was hypnotised from the first note.
The decades of playing together showed off as the deep tones of the grand piano and high pitched timbres of the vibraphone bounced off each other in a gorgeous orgy of sounds. It felt like my eardrums were being softly and gently massaged by Chinese experts.
The second piece, also by Chick, was even better, starting with a lingering lullaby that gradually built in all sorts of unexpected directions. Melodies rose and faded in and out of the mist, textures from both instruments merged together and all of a sudden Chick took a break on the piano and Gary went wild on the vibraphone in an outlandish solo.
Deconstructing The Beatles
There is a tremendous joy in watching a virtuoso exercising his mastery over an instrument usually reserved for music classes in elementary school. Holding two mallets in each hand, the vibraphonist’s movements were so fast it was like watching a spider dancing ballet on hot lava. His playing was at times subtle and flashy, following or leading but always precisely on point. Chick Corea played the piano like an audience as his fingers ran up and down the keyboard. He hit it and it looked like a slap but sounded like a gentle stroke. What followed were beautiful arrangements of pieces by Art Blakey and other jazz giants, and after about fifty minutes they simply walked off stage without saying a thing during a thundering applause.
After the break they started with a low key Chick composition that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on the ‘Amelie’ soundtrack. Shortly afterwards a high watermark of the concert reared its head in a sublime rendition of the Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby”. The duo deconstructed the core elements of the melody down to its atoms and then rearranged them in an orgasmic and highly creative fashion.
Mozart goes to a rave
A bluesy tune by Thelonius Monk followed, but “Mozart Goes Dancing” from the duo’s last album raised the stakes. A jaunty and playful, but classically influenced piece it shifted through a lot of phases but always came out on top. Corea and Burton fed off each other in an Amazon of chords, scales and harmonies and if the film ‘Amadeus’ is any indication of how the real Mozart was like, he would have danced his ass off and begged for an encore. The audience felt that way anyway, as the duo received a standing ovation before they came back out to perform one of Chick’s best known compositions, “La Fiesta.” The whole evening was a fireworks display of enormous talent by two masters of their craft.